This chapter discusses the historiography of informal relief strategies in the early modern period, emphasizing the significant impact on the scholarship of Keith Thomas' allusion to the ‘tradition of mutual help’ and, perhaps more significantly, of Olwen Hufton's concept of the ‘economy of makeshifts’, first developed in her seminal The Poor of Eighteenth-Century France (Oxford, 1974). It discusses the relative and enduring significance of four specific aspects of informal relief in the parishes of rural England: the exploitation of common right; the support of kin; the kindness of neighbours; and the resort to ‘crimes of necessity’. It suggests that even though parish relief eventually did spread across rural England during the course of the early modern period, there was no inevitable transition from informal to formal care. Even at the end of the period, those who received parish pensions supplemented their collection with a wide range of income generated from other sources, especially the informal and quasi-formal networks of charity.
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